Raw square-footage was less important than PLACE for this family. Want a simple family life? Go urban. Go small. Be free.
“We knew that our young daughter had internalized our commitment to place over space. At school she was asked to define “neighborhood” and she wrote confidently from her own experience: “A neighborhood is a place where people live, work, and play.” Not bad for a six-year-old.
At its core, the simple life for us was wrapped up in our appreciation for walkability. That summarizes our family’s definition of a good place, and that’s what we tell our realtor every time. We want to be able to walk to the coffee shop, grocery and pub. We’ve resided in apartments and townhouses. Once we even tried a single-family home. Today, as a family of four, we live in a downtown high-rise with two teenagers. We haven’t owned a lawn mower since 2001.
The urban life necessitated a smaller home out of which blossomed the simple life.”
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Coinciding with the time of year where thoughts turn to relationships, I’m happy to publish this story with The Good Men Project which faces the gritty reality of marriage against the backdrop of a grim visit to IKEA after moving internationally to London.
I’ve lived overseas several times and resided at 23 addresses overall if I was counting correctly. But the big question of home is answered by who I holler for during the World Cup.
by Kathryn Streeter
In Italy on vacation, I was struck by how obvious it was that I wasn’t Italian. For starters, if I were handcuffed I could still communicate; Italians need their hands as much as their tongues. They also use extraordinary facial contortions to deepen their point. They throw their whole body into communicating. As Americans living in London, we’ve run into a special kind of person who relishes the idea of being from nowhere because they are from everywhere. They are of an elite class known as citizens of the world, globetrotting from continent to continent. But reality doesn’t square with this detached notion. Last summer’s World Cup reminds us that we root for our country, regardless of the fact that our players have fat contracts with foreign teams. We grow crazy with clannishness because we like to belong. We are indeed part of a global world, but our passport is a starting point for who we are. It’s easily one of the first exchanges in London: Where are you from? In a largely international crowd, identifying with and being a fair-minded apologist for your home country displays the value of place and a vote against sameness. Never will there be a Citizen of the World passport holder. It’s a dangerous prescription that neutralizes the particular and helps assuage our guilt over a lack of familiarity, responsibility, ownership, and indebtedness to a place—belonging. Our Italian taxi driver reflected a sturdy understanding of this intersection between himself and where he was from by proudly waxing on about the enduring traditions of homemade limoncello and olive oil. Now if he could just keep his hands on the steering wheel.
Originally published in Comment, December 2010.
Published March 2006 in Comment’s City & Country journal
March 3, 2006 – By Kathryn Streeter
“Oh Mom,” moaned our six-year old daughter walking home from school, “look at all those poor people sitting in traffic!” I chuckled at her compassion for this strange car-bound population. What she does not yet grasp is that most families don’t live, as she does, in compact towns and city neighbourhoods where the freedom to walk everywhere is a way of life. While some families lack the opportunity, others have deliberately chosen not to live in towns or city neighbourhoods.
Mixed-used, pedestrian-friendly places promote a more rigorous public life, inspiring healthy community and engaged citizens precisely because, ready or not, face time with your neighbours is unavoidable. When your wall is someone else’s, getting along is imperative. These places often come with smaller, storage-challenged homes that confront America’s intoxication with material things. Also, raising kids in this environment encourages the development of city smarts and a respect for the unfamiliar.
More of us should be animated by an interest in places that serve people, in places that elevate the importance of people—the crown of creation—and encourage a sense of citizenship from the little tykes on up.
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